Sifting through the avalanche of misinformation and p.r. spin in high-profile congressional contests may turn out to be the easy part. On Nov. 2, voters in 37 states will confront 160 ballot initiatives, from complex budget issues in Arizona and Virginia to perpetual wedge issues like taxes and health care reform. Beyond the less than momentous — like Missouri's pitch for dog-breeding regulations — are an array of ballot initiatives that tackle some of our thorniest social and economic questions.
The hottest battleground may be California, where residents are pondering Proposition 23, a measure that would shelve implementation of the state's 2006 law restricting greenhouse-gas levels until the state's unemployment rate falls below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters. It's a fitting flash point. Not only is California's current policy, which sets greenhouse-gas emissions at its 1990 level, the nation's most progressive, but in a symbol of industry's climate-change skepticism, Prop 23's key financial backers are two Texas-based oil companies, Valero Energy and Tesoro Corp., which have contributed a combined $6 million. And there is a $1 million backer in a refinery owned by Koch Industries, whose leaders, Charles and David Koch, have supported conservative causes ranging from the Tea Party movement to climate-science denial. Despite the influx of out-of-state cash, Prop 23 seems unlikely to sway voters; in a recent Los Angeles Times/USC poll, 48% of Californians said they oppose the measure, compared with 32% who claim to support it.